SB Meets… Christophe Prat, Pernod Ricard House of TequilaBy Owen Bellwood
The Pernod Ricard House of Tequila vice president discusses the challenges faced by the industry, changing perceptions of Tequila and creating a home for Altos.
What was your first job in spirits?
I started out as a brand ambassador with Jose Cuervo. After that I moved onto the marketing teams on different brands, working with Diageo, William Grant & Sons and now with Pernod Ricard.
What drew you to work at Pernod Ricard?
I think what I love about this company is the decentralisation and the fact that it is still a family-owned organisation. With the decentralisation goes entrepreneurship and that’s another thing I like about Pernod Ricard.
What are the main differences between the brands you work with?
So we have three Tequila brands and one mezcal, so that one is in a different category for a start. On the three Tequila brands we have two 100% agave Tequila brands, Avion and Altos, one plays in the ultra premium segment and the other in the super premium segment.
We also have Olmeca, which is a mixto Tequila and at a premium price level. So in terms of price level these are all different, which means that in terms of target consumer there is also a difference.
What challenges does House of Tequila face?
In general, the category as a whole currently has a barrier that it faces. That is, a lot of people drank too much too quickly when they were younger and now have a bad memory associated with Tequila. This is one of the fundamental barriers faced by Tequila.
Bringing respect to the category is one challenge but there is another challenge and that is the agave shortage – we need to stabilise that.
How can you change people’s perception of the category?
Consumers need to understand how Tequila is made and how beautiful a product it really is. They need to know that it takes seven years to grow the agave, and that there is then a process with the roller mill and that you then age the spirit in certain types of barrels. Then they need to understand the difference between 100% agave offerings and mixto Tequilas, so there is a huge challenge there.
On the positive side, the Tequila industry has done a great job of educating bartenders in recent years, so I think bartenders get it and not only in London, New York and the top cocktail places in the world.
Are bartenders the key to more educated consumers?
Bartenders are key to this business, and Pernod Ricard as a company has put a lot of focus on them. We have always had a tremendous amount of respect for bartenders and they are at the heart of a lot of our initiatives and they will remain at the heart of our thinking.
Do you think there is anything holding Tequila back from further premiumisation?
I think the first big barrier is perception and past experiences, that is why re-educating is so important. The other thing that affects this is the glass Tequila is served in and the associated way of drinking from it.
So this small glass is at the heart of the category, it’s a shot glass but you don’t necessarily have to down it in one second. In Mexico, every home has a shot glass or a set of shot glasses because they drink Tequila during dinner, over lunch, or during a family meal, but they don’t shoot it – they sip it.
This is where the 100% agave helps a lot, because it is a higher quality product and that’s what makes people start to sip it and appreciate the liquid.
If the appetite for Tequila continues to grow, will the distillery be able to keep up with demand?
We are expanding and we have a plan for the next 10 years. So the answer is yes we can cope with the demand, there is no doubt about that. We have got a very clear investment plan in place to reach our targets, which is very ambitious, but we can adjust if it goes even faster.
What does this expansion involve?
We want to improve every part of the distillery; we need more ovens, more fermentation, more columns, more barrels and more of everything. If you increase capacity somewhere then a bottle neck will appear somewhere else, so things like the bottling line will also need improving and every piece of the production line is set to improve.
As part of this development do you have plans to open the distillery to the public?
We have a plan to turn this distillery into a proper hospitality centre. We are going to build 11 rooms in the distillery and we are completely revamping the area where people can taste our Tequila – we want to create something that has more of an Altos feel and can become a home for Altos Tequila.
Developing the distillery is a three-year project, we will revamp the entire distillery over this time and the hospitality side will be ready next summer. I would love to be able to open this up to consumers but the barrier I see is that it is a bit far out. The home of Altos is not like the Jameson experience in the heart of Dublin so I think we would need to offer a package for people to stay for a few days.